Gear Guy

What hydration pack should I buy as a Christmas gift?

I'm looking for a recommendation for hydration packs as Christmas gifts for my brother and his girlfriend. They live in the Bay Area and do a lot of outdoor activities such as trail biking, hiking, and climbing. Would you recommend the se model for each of them, or different ones? Verna Washington, DC

A: How's this? Buy the CHEAPEST ones you can find! Honestly, hydration packs are a mystery to me. I mean, what was the problem they solved? In all the years I hiked, climbed, biked, or skied before the advent of hydration packs, I never once suffered from extreme dehydration, nor can I recall coming across anyone who did. We used water bottles, which cost on average $2, and everything was just ducky. Now it seems you can't break a sweat without a $90 pack strapped to your back that's too small to carry anything besides the hard-to-manage water bladder and maybe a few candy bars. I don't understand it.

But, enough of my ranting. I do at times carry a hydration pack, mainly on long, hot bike rides where the big bladder in the pack cuts out the need to find water. So I do see, to an extent, their utility. But they're basically just water bottles with straps attached, so there's no reason in my mind for the current ultra high-tech trend in this market. The Camelback Classic ($40) is a perfectly good, basic hydration pack. So too is the Cascade Designs Breakaway Plus (also $40). The Ultimate Direction Shadow (also $40—I sense a trend here) is a good fanny-pack design. And, if you really feel obligated to splurge, the Gregory Intertia ($110) provides decent pack space in addition to the bladder-and-tube assembly.